Kids Need Structure

structureSometimes we really hate change, or at least we are uncomfortable with it – we love our familiar world; the known is so endearingly comfortable!

I stopped into the car repair facility we have been frequenting for 20 years over multiple cars, which is now under new ownership, having been bought out by a large local company.  So when I popped in with an issue recently all the faces, except one, were different!  Same location, same building, same services, but suddenly everything felt so different.  Where was ‘my’ shop?  Order, structure, the familiar gives meaning and value to all the previous hours spent (invested) there.  These new guys don’t know me, haven’t shared my history, don’t really understand my needs and concerns…

Children feel much the same way, but even more so since so much of life is new to them (depending on their age) and change can be pretty near constant to a baby.   When things stay the same, when they can count on things not changing, they can understand the world better.

The two year old wails “No not the red plate, I said I want the BLUE plate!”

Or “Read The Diggiest Dog again.”  (With the parent lamenting “But you’ve heard it 100 times already!  How about let’s read another story for a change?”)

Or when the hurried parent is trying to condense the bedtime story into 5 minutes and they are stopped with, “No wait! You skipped the part about …”

Kids need and want structure.  Delivering  it in the form of boundaries and rules is key to their development and their safety.  And when they get older and start to push the boundaries, to see if they are real and where the outer limits are, it’s important to stick by your expectations and hold firm.  Those reasonable rules you put in place will be tested, but your child really wants is for you to tow the line.  No amount of wheeling, cajoling, or going to the other parent should cause you to buckle and give in.  If you do, what’s the lesson that’s learned?  Of course it’s: “If I whine and complain long enough she’ll give me my way!”  Or, “He’s a softie – he can’t resist when I pucker my lip.”

It’s hard to be the unyielding parent, especially when we’re tired and it’s so easy to give in and not do battle today.  Besides, how much can one time hurt, just this one exception?    Another reason to give in is because you really want to make your child happy – and you will make her so happy with you if you give in to her!  You have the power in your hands to ‘buy’ her love, just by breaking your own rules!  How tempting it is to gain that adoration; so much better than the flip side, which is hearing, “You’re so mean!”

So stop and tell yourself that you’re only thinking about yourself here – you want the love (of course you do) and you want to spare yourself a fight (it’s been a long day) – but it’s not about you, it’s about your child.   What is best for your child?  To learn that you set the rules for a reason, that you stand by your convictions (and she learns to stand by hers too), that your values are more important than being considered nice?  It’s not always easy, but no one said parenting was going to be easy.

COMMUNICATION TAKEAWAY:  Children really deep down want rules and boundary structures that help them understand their world.  Parents give that structure, but too they often back down from it when the boundaries are challenged.   A better answer is to revisit the structure periodically and see if it still make sense or if it needs tweaking, rather than abandoning it with a “I give up! Do what you want!” which just teaches that badgering works, if you just do it long enough!

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